Dressed in a red shirt, white tie and with arms crossed in front, ‘Tommy Torpedo’ will be forever immortalized in a Drag King Trading Card. Flip the card around and stats show that this Portland, Oregon king is a self-described ‘faggy dyke’ whose best performance was “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
Part of a series of 119 trading cards that have now found themselves traded around the world, the Drag King Trading Cards — designed to look like packs of baseball trading cards — challenge ideas of gender in the gay community.
Conceived by Winnipeg artist Kristin Nelson and recently unveiled at the International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE) in Vancouver this past October, these trading cards have documented the evolution of the drag king community.
“I wanted to know how people in drag king culture as well as people in queer communities were labelling themselves since these labels change over time and through generations,” says Nelson.
She started her project when she attended her first IDKE in the fall of 2006 in Winnipeg. Nelson set up a booth where she invited performers to have their picture taken and fill out statistics such as identity, sexual orientation, height and eye colour. These stats would then be printed on the back of their trading card.
Many of the kings labelled their gender as simply ‘queer’ or ‘fluid’ while some played with this concept even further by dismissing the term altogether or labelling themselves in such ways as ‘unicorn’.
“It’s all about people wanting to be defined in their own terms,” says Nelson who has been exploring gender in her art for some time. Nelson’s last project involved painting portraits of women in Vancouver who identified as butch.
Nelson hopes that her trading cards will raise the profile of drag kings and allow them to be viewed as pop celebrities and icons. This, says Nelson, “would give these individuals star status, ultimately valorizing them and their commitments to activism and gender performance”.
Funded in large part by the Winnipeg Arts Council, Nelson’s Trading Cards have been received well both within and outside of the North American drag king community. Nelson will soon launch a website (www.dragkingtradingcards.com) which she hopes will reach out to people who cannot attend the IDKE where many of these cards are being circulated.
In Winnipeg, a city where the drag king community is growing and drag king workshops have been filling up faster than they can be organized, the cards have been selling well.
Nelson has plans to create a second deck of trading cards at the upcoming IDKE in Columbus, Ohio in 2008.
Until then, she dreams of a time when she can walk into her neighbourhood convenience store and find a pack of her Drag King Trading Cards on the shelf for sale.